The Trappers – The Trappers (roots rock)
10 Records 10R001, 2010, CD album, 37m 1s
The Trappers were kind enough to send me a CD, which usually results in a full length standalone write up, since I appreciate the expense of promoting a band, and also enjoy extending my collection. The fact that they’re in a roundup instead is no reflection on the quality of the release, but more on the kinds of things I tend to talk about when I review a recording. Although I will expand on it somewhat, basically all I can think of to say is ‘it’s roots rock, they do it very well, and I like it a lot’. That should certainly not be taken to say that there is no more content to it than ‘it’s root rock’ can tell you, but the point of music like this, of writing songs in an idiom so well established that stylistic issues almost vanish from the listening experience, is to direct the listener’s attention towards musical meanings located between the concerns of the tradition and the lyrical content. To bring those sorts of meaning out in all their complexity and specificity is a major undertaking for a conscientious writer, and I sadly lack the time to conduct an in depth analysis of all the album’s lyrics. The choice that faces the composer in such an idiom is between the cliché, and a committed, literary veracity analogous in some ways to Realist fiction; the impression I got from these songs is certainly the latter. There is, unsurprisingly, a certain sense of nostalgia, if only because of the ‘old time’ sound of the music, but also a distinct optimism, and a noticeable sense of humour. The arrangements and musical materials have a good deal of country in them, a strong dose of blues, and (like the band they remind me of most, The Band) a lot of groove, that draws on the rhythm sections of 1960s commercial soul music. Every note is played with remarkable taste and impeccable phrasing; a good deal of care has gone into achieving the right instrumental tones, and affecting the right delivery. Respect for the tradition is much in evidence, but this passionate music is empowered by its historical hinterland, not in thrall to it: there are moments of real sadness, and there’s a real sense of fun. Well judged writing, and spot-on playing.
She Makes War & Friends – Disarm: Remixed (gloom pop/ electronica)
self released, 2011, DD album, 1hr 7m 28s
The remixes collected here are the result of a competition; there were sixty entries, and there are fifteen tracks on the album, so we have here the best 25%, and if that’s the case, the standard of submissions must have been remarkably high. There’s quite a diversity of approaches on Disarm: Remixed, although there is an understandable preponderance of overtly electronic sounds, and most tracks have some kind of dance beat. ‘Olympian (Stuart W Ramsay Remix)’ is an infectious disco house groove, sitting among some nice, mellow ambient-techno and downbeat electro type noises in the album’s early stages; when we get to ‘Got Milk (SMWvsALMA)’ things start to get down and dirty. ‘Got Milk’ started life as the most disturbingly sexy of the songs on Disarm, and the treatment here manages to retain its driving post-punk feel while dropping a real floorfiller. Before I carry on in this vein, I need to step back and observe that I can’t go through and name the standout tracks, because they’re all good, and all distinctive, and I’ll end up just mentioning the upbeat ones. The best thing about it, is that the songs all survive the process: I’ve heard a lot of remix albums where the remixers treat the source material as no more than a sample bank, but you get the impression they all loved the songs they were working on here. You obviously can’t rework material this radically without affecting its meaning, and the detailed readings you might make by listening closely to the lyrics in a relatively simple setting are less accessible; but these treatments all seem to take some aspect of the songs’ atmospheres and feelings and just run with them, pointing the listener to a facet of the listening experience they might otherwise have glossed over. This stuff started life as some top-notch material, arranged and performed to near perfection, and it’s found new life as the point of departure for some really creative and enjoyable reworkings.
Grifter – Grifter (hard rock)
Ripple Music, 2011, CD album, 41m 17s
If The Trappers, reviewed above, take a long established style, and exploit its capacity to tell authentic seeming stories, Grifter start from a position of sheer unalloyed delight in their chosen music. They’re not out to avoid clichés, but to revel in them: if you like shit-kicking, swaggering, leather-clad, fire-breathing rawk, then there’s really nothing to be gained by putting a Prius engine in your ’59 T-Bird. These songs are big, greasy bacon double-cheeseburgers of riff; deeply funky, high octane, blues ‘n’ kerosene howls of it, in fact. It’s all about groove, and while most of the blokes will be up the front headbanging as usual, I’ll be further back dancing with the girls. The playing’s great, the recorded sound is a fat throaty roar, with tight punchy drums in just the right place, and the vocal has a charismatic swagger that ties it all together beautifully. The songs are (sometimes ludicrous) paeans to the mythical rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle (‘I won’t kiss your daughter/ ’cos I got worse things on my mind’ is a typical example), and the whole thing comes across like a fan letter to the 70s, written in a mixture of blood, petrol and whiskey. There are times when the sound finds a creamy haze redolent of more recent stoner rock, but one way or another, this is resolutely old school stuff. ‘All about the rock/ all about the roll’ we’re informed in ‘Young Blood, Old Veins’, ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ being (in case you thought it was a style of music) an old Afro-American slang term for shagging. This album is unpretentious, high powered enjoyment. I’m a fan.
Sky Flying By – What’s The Farthest You Can See? (post-rock)
self released, 2011, CD & DD album, 40m 35s
$10 (CD), $5 (DD)
Post-rock, or that diversity of creative musical practices that could be reasonably pointed at by the term, tends to do a good line in compositions with a strong sense of narrative, that make compelling connections between particular details and the sweeping arcs of experience; if it had a verbal component it might be relating a seemingly insignificant incident to a whole phase of someone’s life. In the absence of easy lyrical shortcuts to meaning, post-rock achieves such connections by combining different musical registers, and finding ways for them to co-exist, so that two or more worlds of rhythm or harmony offer their meanings for comparison, without one necessarily becoming subsumed in the other. It might be something as simple as a rapid hi-hat figure, set against a slow sweep of guitars and synths, or it might involve a more intricate assemblage of interlocking textures; either way, Sky Flying By are (or is) very accomplished at it. It’s becoming something of a commonplace to describe such sounds as oceanic, to say they pick you up and carry you away, but it’s hard to avoid those clichés when writing about music that so powerfully represents the broad, but still very personal, scale of human experience. What’s The Farthest You Can See? consists mainly of guitar sounds, variously processed, with bass and drum sounds mainly occupying their traditional positions within its soundworld; nothing any of these elements does is particularly outlandish, and the overall effect isn’t jarringly leftfield, but it is the model of creative sonic manipulation, every texture filling a carefully considered aesthetic niche, and every tune presenting an atmosphere as well considered as it is involving. This music resembles the brushwork of ‘all-over’ abstract expressionist painting, both in its focus on mood, and in concealing a considerable technical accomplishment in a practice that seems to require only the most rudimentary technique. Beautiful stuff.